The Creative Entrepreneur…

The 3 Critical Characteristics of the Creative Entrepreneur

By Mark McGuinness

So how come Marla’s having such a ball? How did she get to be queen of the roost? And what does she know that Lou doesn’t?

Marla is the consummate creative entrepreneur.  She’s a bright creative thinker who follows through and gets things done.  Everybody loves her for a reason – she treats everyone she works with, big and small, as a valued collaborator and potential ally.  And her creativity is not limited to the artistic sphere – her entrepreneurial vision allows her to conjure new opportunities out of thin air, and she has the business savvy to make her dreams a reality.

Her success – like yours – depends on her ability to master three critical skill-sets:

  1. Creativity – generating new ideas, evaluating them effectively, taking action to turn them into new products and services.
  2. Collaboration – connecting and working with partners, clients, and other significant players in your network, which will probably be scattered across the globe and contain more ‘virtual’ relationships than face-to-face ones.
  3. Entrepreneurship – identifying opportunities in the marketplace and using business skills to turn ideas into products into profits.

Of course, entrepreneurs have always relied on their creativity to produce wealth, but the modern creative entrepreneur goes further. John Howkins defines creative entrepreneurs as people who ’use creativity to unlock the wealth that lies within themselves’ (my emphasis) rather than external capital.

The value they create lies not in their physical products (if any) but in intangible assets such as their brand, reputation, network and intellectual property.  They are adept at projecting a desired image and creating a personal brand, both online and offline. They also understand the principles of intellectual property law and use copyrights, trademarks, patents and licenses to exploit the full potential of their ideas.

Creative entrepreneurs are not freelancers. Freelancers earn a living by doing paid work for clients, usually charging by the hour, day or project. Freelancers think in terms of  ’getting more work’. Creative entrepreneurs think in terms of creating opportunities, producing results and making profits. This leads them to create systems and businesses that generate wealth and free up their time for their next big idea.

Mary’s Story

Once upon a time there was ’a young girl who just wanted to draw pictures’. When she was 11, her family created a ’studio’ for her by empying out a linen closet, where she would sit and draw for hours, no matter how hot it was in summer.

She grew up into a woman who wanted to draw pictures. She took a job at an ad agency and freelance commissions from clients – but she wasn’t satisfied ’drawing to order’ for other people. So she started licensing her designs to greeting card companies and saw her levels of income and satisfaction rise.

She branched out into other media and took on staff to help her. To this day, she still draws the originals of all her designs, before her staff ’reformats’ them for licensed products including cards, calendars, T-shirts, mugs, books and animated films. One day her fame and personal brand were so well established that she was able to launch a national magazine bearing her name – Mary Engelbreit’s HOME COMPANION.

Had she remained a freelancer or even become a contracted author, Mary Engelbreit would no doubt have made a comfortable living. But because she became an entrepreneur, licensing her art and building a business around it, she has achieved lifetime retail sales of more than $1 billion. She has also touched the lives of millions of people with her artwork, and partnered with the charity First Book to promote literacy by delivering millions of books to low income children.

Artist or Entrepreneur?

Conventional thinking sees art and business as worlds apart, with little or nothing in common. Here at Lateral Action we think this is a deeply uncreative way of looking at things. In Mary Engelbreit we see the Artist and Entrepreneur working together in harmony:

It’s an amazing degree of success for any company, but even more remarkable considering that it all began with a single-minded young girl who decided at age 11 that she was going to be an artist. And while Mary Engelbreit Studios has grown into a global licensing and retail business, that same girl still sits at its core, grown up now, but still drawing her pictures with the same sense of wonder, imagination and enthusiasm.

Or how about Caterina Fake, who started out as a designer, then later an Art Director at before she co-founded Flickr, the photo-sharing phenomenon. These days her business interests include sitting on the boards of Creative Commons and Etsy, speaking at conferences and universities, and advising startups. She also finds time to write fiction and poetry and make sculpture and art installations. Are her businesses really any less creative than her artistic pursuits?

Marla wouldn’t say so. She calls herself an ‘Artist in Business’, meaning both ‘an artist who is in business’ and ‘an entrepreneur whose business is a work of art’.

We’re All Entrepreneurs Now

As Lou is finding out to his cost, the steady job and predictable career path are now historical relics.  The only real security lies in taking an entrepreneurial approach to our own careers, by taking responsibility for developing our skills, building our network and reputation, and creating opportunities for ourselves.  Taking a job can be a great learning experience and a worthwhile investment in yourself – just don’t assume it will be there forever.

Of course this is great news to someone like Jack who values his independence and always has plenty of creative side projects on the boil.  He’ll get bored and move on long before he’s made redundant.  That blog he’s been writing in the evenings has grown arms and legs – as well as landing him a book deal it’s put him in touch with collaborators around the globe.  He’s convinced he’s on the verge of making it big… but he’ll need more than dreams to succeed.

Because the new economy is founded on creativity, it would be easy to assume we all need to get our creative thinking hats on and schedule a lot of brainstorming sessions. But there’s a little more to it than that – as we’ll see in the next article in this series.

Over to You

Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?  Why?

How have the skills of creativity, collaboration and entrepreneurship contributed to your success?

Which of these three skill-sets come easiest to you? Which do you have to work at?


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